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Instagram looks to make changes after research finds app harms teen girls' mental health

Posted at 2:43 PM, Sep 17, 2021

Instagram plans to make changes after a report revealed how the app affects teen girls' mental health.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook — which owns Instagram — has been looking into how the app affects young users.

Researchers found that about a third of teen girls using the app felt bad about their bodies and that Instagram made them feel worse.

Instagram says it's looking into ways to discourage users from focusing on their physical appearance. One option they're considering is to prompt users to look at different topics when they repeatedly view content related to appearance.

Facebook's study isn't the first to look into the mental health of teens who use social media. Jean Twenge started researching how social media affected young people in 2012 — around the time smartphones became more common.

Her research correlated with other studies that prove the more time users spend online, the more likely they are to be depressed and have suicidal thoughts.

With smartphones, people of all ages and genders are spending more time online. But teen girls are particularly vulnerable to the negative feelings brought about by social media.

"Instagram can make popularity into a number because you can see the number of likes and followers that you have," Twenge said. "It quantifies teen girl popularity in a way that really hadn't happened before."

Teen girls also tend to spend more time on social media than teen boys.

Although young people tend to use more than one social media app, researchers say Instagram is different because it mostly revolves around images.

"Because Instagram emphasizes beautiful pictures, often beautiful pictures of beautiful bodies, it's going to be the platform where you're going to see the most emphasis on body image, and that can be pretty problematic," Twenge said.

Twenge says parents can take advantage of parent controls on both Apple and Android phones to place time limits on the Instagram app or limit a teen from using the app until they reach a certain age.